Morocco's charm offensive plants roots for World Cup bid

Morocco fans in the Marrakech Stadium cheer on their team Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Morocco's decision to bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup says a lot more about the ambitions of the country's football than first meets the eye, and is one of a number of moves by the football federation to become a major player on the continent and beyond.

Morocco have for many years been cast as the bridesmaid and never the bride, missing out on four previous bids to host the World Cup.

The betting will be against them again, as they go up against a powerful joint bid by the United States, Canada, and Mexico for the newly expanded 48-team global showpiece.

But sometimes being seen to be part of a positive process is also important, and over the next year or so, until FIFA makes its decision, Moroccan football and the country's infrastructure will be on the lips of many.

The North African nation has been making positive strides to put itself on the map for a number of years now. The country has been actively attempting to build a powerbase within the African game, and their efforts are paying dividends.

For example, Royal Moroccan Football Federation (RMFF) president Faouzi Lekjaa was recently voted in as a newly-created third vice-president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

Morocco had been a pariah under previous CAF president Issa Hayatou, when they walked away from hosting the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations finals over fears about the Ebola virus that was ravaging parts of West Africa at the time.

Not-so-subtle whispers in football circles suggest Morocco is being lined up as an alternate host for the 2019 Afcon finals, with fears that Cameroon will not be able to fulfil its mandate, after CAF suddenly decreed the number of competing teams would be extended from 16 to 24.

"Morocco will not hesitate for a second to respond favourably to any invitation to host this Nations Cup," Lekjaa said at the recent CAF symposium held in Rabat.

It is one of a number of recent overtures made by the RMFF to hold major events in the country. Morocco staged the recent French Super Cup clash between Paris St Germain and Monaco on July 29, having also done so in 2011, while the country also played host to the FIFA Club World Cup in 2013 and 2014.

Added to that, the 'development pacts' that the RMFF signed with various associations across the African continent, and Lekjaa spearheading a promotion of Morocco as a 'big brother' figure, ensure that favours will be called in one day.

The latest of these is the gift to the Rwanda Football Federation (RFF) of US$2.25-million to help complete a hotel being established by the Rwandans to house their national teams, and in the long-term cut the costs of hosting international matches.

The RMFF had already committed in April to pay for the construction of various artificial pitches in Rwanda.

"[RFF president] Nzamwita [Vincent] is a brother and a special friend," Lekjaa, as reported by Rwanda Eye, said when announcing the gift to complete the hotel.

"He is the one that spearheaded the development pacts that we have been signing with so many other football associations in Africa. He has played a pivotal role in bringing along many other friends we would have never have managed to acquire without him.

"As we reach this great historical milestone, it's the first time that a football association of a country has given its annual FIFA fund for a football development initiative of another football association."

It stands to reason that there will have to be a return for this generosity by the RMFF and it is likely that will come, in part, when rallying support from the African bloc and beyond for a World Cup bid - either in 2026 or, more realistically, 2030.

The charm offensive is in full swing, with a World Cup gig the ultimate aim. Certainly, when it is Africa's turn again, whenever that will be, Morocco will be the leading contender as they lay what they hope will be fertile ground.